In a world rampant with fake news and never-ending echo chambers on social media sites, it is becoming harder and harder to differentiate authentic news from prefabricated misinformation intended to misguide and harm. Fake news’ severity can vary greatly: from something as trivial as an incorrect curry recipe to a malicious misinformation campaign that helped shape US presidential elections. All fake news is harmful, regardless of severity and magnitude.
It can be daunting to navigate an online world flooded with rigged political campaigns, false death reports, and doctored images meant to provoke a response. As the saying goes, prevention is the best cure. We cannot put a stop to fake news at the source, but what we can do is prevent it from spreading in the first place.
Here are 5 things to consider before you click that share button.
1. Check the news source
You’re on your lunch break, eating and having a chat with your coworkers, while scrolling through your news feed. As you motion with your fingers, you notice a clickbait-laden headline about the detrimental effects of wearing a face mask, something about reducing your oxygen intake and the permanent harm to your lungs. Under the impression that you’re doing your friends a service, you share the article.
Fake news can masquerade as benign content such as this, which in reality creates misinformation among the population about safety procedures that, during a pandemic, would actually lead to a loss in life. In this case, the person sharing the article should have noticed that it does not come from a reputable source or medical journal. So, the first step is to always check the news source before you share.
“During the final three months of the US presidential campaign [in 2016], the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from 19 major news outlets combined!” – Ogilvy
2. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is
Often you’ll come across articles online that carry false promises. Think vague guarantees of easy access to foreign passports or visas under false pretenses. In instances like this, fake news can be tied to actual fraudulent and criminal activity that can cause you or others significant monetary loss. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
3. Check for bias, hidden agendas and propaganda
During times of unrest or controversy, parties will often wield fake news as a weapon to sway public opinion in their favor. Again, this could be on the level of something as trivial as a romantic rivalry between celebrities by a tabloid news site, to something as malicious as a conspiracy theory circulating online that blames X party (or even race) for a recent disaster (usually during man-made disasters of political nature). This type of fake news is dangerous, and can plant hatred and illicit a violent response, so you don’t want to be the person to have propagated it.
It might require some effort on your part, but do some research on the individual and topic before you actually share. If it’s too much of an effort, then just scroll on, you’ll be saving yourself the trouble, and your contacts the misfortune of having to come across false information.
4. Check multiple sources
Leading on from the last point, it is always better to check multiple sources when it comes to controversial headlines.
If a headline is bold and aggressive, voicing a controversial opinion, check multiple sources before you share a piece of content that might mislead someone you know in an ill manner. If you can’t find any official sources, check forums and comments sections and make an educated guess: Does this seem like the product of a handful of hokey news sites?
5. Images and videos don’t carry as much credibility as they used to
After a recent disaster, you receive an image from said disaster site proving X party was responsible. “It’s there amid the debris and destruction, it has to be true.” Right?
Obviously, wrong. The first thing you need to do is check the source. Is this image from a professional photojournalist, or from a regular citizen? If it’s from a regular phone, for example, how do you know it was taken on the day of the disaster, or even in the same city or country? Look for landmarks, specific uniforms of professional personnel, license plates, and other details to make sure that the photo truly came from where it’s said to have come from. Even then, we advise against sharing images without context and/or official credentials. Personally, I’ve often had to shoot down endless misconceptions by relatives who’ve sent me false images making grand accusations.
It’s the same deal with videos. Inspect the content meticulously, check for the source, the usual.
One last thing to consider with both mediums is that doctoring is a thing. Photoshop and other visual editing software permit people to fabricate and alter images and videos to produce fake content that pushes forward their agenda, or simply creates misinformation and confusion.
In this day and age, all of us have a role in transmitting fake news. Think before you click.